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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

ANCHORAGE FIELD OFFICE: Schoolyard Habitat in Anchorage, Alaska Sparks Interest in Migratory Birds

Region 7, May 11, 2013
Colorful birds adorn the boundary of Government Hill Elementary in Anchorage.
Colorful birds adorn the boundary of Government Hill Elementary in Anchorage. - Photo Credit: n/a
Students planting native shrubs to attract migratory birds from South and Central America.
Students planting native shrubs to attract migratory birds from South and Central America. - Photo Credit: n/a

Celebration and learning converged this past May at Government Hill Elementary School in Anchorage when approximately 400 K-5 students celebrated International Migratory Bird Day in their schoolyard habitat. The event was spearheaded by Adriana Amaya, a former student of Government Hill’s Spanish immersion program and the current Environmental Education/Outreach intern at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Anchorage Field Office.

 

The schoolyard habitat (funded through a cooperative agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and the Government Hill PTA, and with support from an array of other partners including the Alaska Department of Fish and Game) began to transform the school grounds from an unused lawn into wildlife habitat in 2011. Initially, it involved planting over 100 native trees and shrubs specifically selected to attract small birds and mammals. Over the next few decades, the habitat will continue to change into a diverse forest habitat, providing an opportunity for Government Hill’s students to observe and learn about native wildlife over the long term, with special emphasis on birds that migrate between Alaska and Central and South America.

Throughout the day, students rotated through various stations where they learned how to identify common Alaskan migratory birds by sight and sound. They also learned about bird feeding habits and how different species’ beaks are adapted to eat certain types of food, all in English and Spanish.

“We saw all kinds of birds around our school like magpies, black-capped chickadees, gulls, and even sandhill cranes” said a fifth-grader.

The event ignited an interest in birding and helped to connect the students with their Schoolyard Habitat. At one point two bald eagles soared overhead and the entire group of students and teachers stopped what they were doing and watched the birds until they were out of sight.

The discovery that “birds come [migrate] from all over the world, not just North America” (as one student explained) will hopefully spark an interest in migration and lead to further study about why Alaska attracts millions of migratory birds each year. Amaya hopes to make this an annual event and to eventually partner with a school in South America to trade stories and pictures about the different migratory birds in both regions.

Contact Info: Katrina Mueller, 907-786-3637, katrina_mueller@fws.gov